Recently in TIME, writer Caroline Kitchens dismissed concerns over so-called rape culture "hysteria." She asserts, "Though rape is certainly a serious problem, there's no evidence that it's considered a cultural norm. Twenty-first century America does not have a rape culture." While Kitchens focuses exclusively on rapes of women by men, a recent study looking at rape of men by women demolishes Kitchens' claims. Recent polling shows that nearly half of young men have had unwanted sex, and almost a fifth claim that women have used physical force to make them have sex against their will.
Kitchens points to instances of false rape reports to bolster her claims of a made-up rape panic. What's ironic about this messed-up line of thinking is that while the best research puts the percentage of false reports at about 2-6% of rape reports, when polled, people think the percentage is around 30-50%. Looking at the numbers, rather than relying on anecdote as Kitchens does, reveals the real divorced-from-reality hysteria is over false rape reporting, which Kitchens' piece helps exacerbate.
In reality, one of the worst aspects of the very real problem of rape culture is how many rapes go unreported. The American Medical Association has found that sexual violence is the crime least likely to be reported. RAINN estimates that fully 60% of rapes are never reported to police. According to the U.S. Department of Justice, in 2012, there were 346,830 rapes and sexual assaults, and 72% of these attacks were not reported to authorities.
Why might this be? One huge inhibitor to reporting rapes to police is the treatment victims receive.
While working through the incredible backlog of untested rape kits in Detroit, Prosecutor Kym Worthy began examining the related police reports. In report after report were testimonies of officers saying things like, "This victim is a ho. I don't believe anything she says."
Recently, when a woman with Multiple Sclerosis reported her rape to police, an officer asked her if she voluntarily pulled the man's pants down before he raped her. They asked her mother if her injuries were from falling, and not being violently gang raped. And they asked her mother if she really had MS.
And all estimates as well indicate that the problem of underreporting is worse for men than women.
Two more factors play into why victims don't report. First, victims know how unlikely it is that anything will come of it. There are at least 400,000 rape kits sitting untested on police departments all across the nation right now. The vast majority of rape cases are never investigated. Why go through abuse when the you won't see justice anyway? Then, victims have to deal with police, and others, assuming their claims are false.
Kitchens' sees acknowledging rape culture as us-versus-them. "By blaming so-called rape culture, we implicate all men in a social atrocity," she writes.
But this is absurd. Rape isn't men versus women. Rape is an aggressor versus a victim. Anyone can rape, and anyone can be raped. We, as a culture, need to be on the side of the victim, no matter what gender. That first involves acknowledging the structural barriers which keep people from reporting their rapes.
It's also lazy. Denying rape culture and sweeping these problems under the rug while pointing to trumped up anecdotes of a false rape reporting crisis might help us feel better, but it does absolutely nothing to help victims or prevent future violence.
It's time to acknowledge the barriers to reporting, and justice, victims face. It's time to press police departments to treat victims with dignity and respect. It's time to force them to do their jobs and investigate and prosecute sexual assault cases. It's time to shout from the rooftops that victims are very unlikely to be lying, and very likely to not report. And it's time to stop spending time denying rape culture when you can be doing something to make it better.